Feed My Sheep – an allegory

fleecingWhen the Lord called me to be a shepherd, I was told to feed his sheep.  I thought I knew pretty well what that meant.   I was to bring them to the good water where they could drink.  I was to bring them to the good pastures where they could graze.   I was to watch out for wild animals and to keep them from falling off cliffs and into brambles which they are inclined to do.

Others are also working with my sheep  One man came by and said that if I gave him just a little fleece from each of the sheep, he would tell me how to best organize them.   It seemed a small price to pay for some good advice so I agreed.  He said that it was a mistake to keep all the sheep together in one pen.  I needed to divide them into groupings of similar sheep.  That would of course involve building separate pens for each group, and an assistant shepherd to help keep an eye on them.  If I did this, the sheep would like it better and my overall flock would increase.

A second man came by a few months later.  He said that for a similar price of some fleece from the sheep, he could give me more up to date advice.  He was a shepherd consultant, he said.  He asked many questions.  How many sheep did I have? What ages were they?  He said that was important because each generation of sheep is different and the shepherds need help in noticing these things.  He wanted to know how many sheep I had in previous years.  This was so he could estimate how quickly the flock would grow.  After getting all of this information he put it into a computer data base and produced some remarkable graphs.  His suggestion was that I needed to bring in a water source from the water utility and that I should build a barn for storing the food for the sheep.  He had sample water and sample hay from some of the largest providers.  Now, I would have to pay for this service with a little more fleece from each sheep, but it would be much more efficient than the antiquated shepherd techniques I was using.  This seemed like a good idea.

One month later a third man came by.  He said that what I had been doing was good, but there was one part I had missed.  I had not considered the shepherd.  He showed me some pictures of different shepherds and how they did their shepherding.  He pointed out that the shepherds who were like me tended to have smaller flocks of contented sheep, and the flock growth while significant was smaller than others.  He then pointed out three shepherds who had the largest flocks with the most contented sheep.  Their flocks grew faster than anyone else’s.  The only trouble was that I was not that kind of shepherd.

I said, “but the Lord called me to this job.”

“Yes,” he said, “but it takes more than a calling and standard shepherd skills to do the kind of shepherding that  really excels.”

“Should I quit?” I asked.

“No, just give me another small portion of fleece from each sheep, and I will show you how to become like one of the big flock shepherds.”

So for the next month he showed me all the new ways to shepherd sheep.

I found over time there were many helpful men such as this who had shepherd training to offer. One sold better shears.  Another had better songs to sing while lulling the sheep to sleep.  Others kept lists of types of wolves, and better designs for sheep pen building.

After many years of listening to these shepherd trainers, this is what happened.  Because each one had asked for a little fleece, my sheep where without any fleece.  I had to quickly build a large modern sheep barn with automated water and feed, as well as a heat source to help the fleece-less sheep weather the winter.  The only way I could pay for this was to keep shearing the sheep and using the fleece to pay for the overhead.

I have since decided to leave them in the care of hired help

I have taken all the things I had learned and began to go to other shepherd’s fields to share my knowledge.  I am such a better shepherd than I once was, that I decided to join the band of traveling shepherd teachers.  Did I mention that I am paid better than before?  Now that I work regular hours, I have taken up some hobbies when I am not working on my book.  The Shepherds Network is giving me an award, and a trip to New Zealand to study Southern Hemisphere Sheep Herding in the 21st Century.

Sheep operations are an amazing sight these days.  The sheep, as they are constantly fleeced all look alike,   Without any fleece, only the numbered tag on their ears can identify them.  It does bother me sometimes that I no longer know their names, but who can argue with progress?

©David E. Carlson 2000

7 Words – #5 Shepherds – John 10:11

sheepJesus healed a blind man in John 9.  The Pharisees put on an inquiry to find out if some law had been broken.  These wise leaders were too simple to understand what the simple blind man could see instantly.

“You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.  We know that God does not listen to sinners…..If this man were not from god, he could do nothing.”    9:30,33

They blindly threw out the blind man who could see.

In the next chapter Jesus spoke of himself as a Shepherd.  First that those who come in over the wall are not the true shepherds.  Here he was referring to those blind leaders who did not enter by God’s word, but by their own word.

Then he said, that he himself was the Gate to the sheep.  He was the only way in for the sheep and the shepherds.

Then he said that he was himself the Good Shepherd.  The Pharisees of Chapter 9 were bad shepherds.

Here then is the fifth word to Pastors.

“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep.  So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.  Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.  The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”  v. 11-13

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The very name Pastor means Shepherd.  We Pastors  have to ask ourselves, “Are we really shepherds or just hired hands?”

The hired hand has two defining qualities according to Jesus’ words.  He runs away from danger and he cares nothing for the sheep.

Jesus picked up an important theme from the Old Testament.

 The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

he leads me beside quiet waters,

he restores my soul,

He guides me in the paths of righteousness

for his names sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil,

for you are with me;

your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

Psalm 23:1-4

 “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock?  You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.  You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.  You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.  You have ruled them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.”

Ezekiel 34:2-6

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 Here is a rich vein of instruction for all who Pastor the flock of God.  Who of us could possibly stand the scrutiny of the words of Ezekiel?  How searching they are!  Have I ever thought of myself first?  Have I ever spoke of the sheep as belonging to me?  Have I ever wept over the broken down Church of God where sheep are scattered because the leaders thought first of their own needs?  Do I leave the 99 who are happy with me to go listen to the disgruntled 1 who is so angry with me that he left?

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Her eyes sparkled and her wrinkled face was radiant as she said, “He was like God to us.” The elderly saint was referring to a very loved Pastor.  He had been there when the children were baptized and later confirmed and still later married.  He was the first face seen when waking up from the surgical anesthesia.  His home was open for Sunday dinner, especially for the single students far from home.  He taught the word.  And so this sheep was yet in awe of his memory.

Yet the phrase “He was like God” is disturbing.  If it meant that he was often the one who’s voice spoke out loud  the Word of God and who’s presence showed in the flesh the love of God who has no body, then it is ok.  However I wonder if he did not become a bit confused with his Over-shepherd.

The Good Shepherd owns the sheep.  Pastors don’t own anyone.  Does that make us hired hands?  No.  We don’t run away, and we do care a great deal for the sheep.

We are under-shepherds.  We serve the Good Shepherd.  He owns the sheep.  He gave his life’s blood to buy them and us as well.  We serve in his flock as under-shepherds because he has asked us.  They are never really ours because they are his.

I have seen it increasingly in the eyes of the sheep.  It is not the glow of the older saint, but is the question mark in the eyes of the younger sheep.

“What does he want?”

“Wouldn’t he really like it better if I just left?”

“Is he doing something with the other shepherds that I should know about?”

“If he really knew me, he wouldn’t love me.”

“Why does he keep looking at his watch?”

The older saint had seen faults in her under-shepherd, and could even tell a good story at his expense.  But those flaws only made the bond stronger.

The younger saints see faults and wonder if they don’t reveal a much bigger fault.  They could forgive a mis-stated historical fact in the sermon, and even the way we mix up names and family connections.  But they sense that what they see is not so innocent as that.  What they see is a heart that is empty of love and full of something else.  It could be ambition or vision or a love for process.  It could be annoyance at being disturbed from his study to deal with a human need.

We think because they need direction that sheep are stupid.  They may choose stupid paths and they may choose the wrong grass to eat.  But they do not make mistakes in judging the heart of their shepherds.  Their lives depend on the shepherd, and they know it. 

If we make mistakes along the way, they are forgotten.  We become the butt of loving humor.  If we forget that we should love, feed and defend the sheep one of two things will happen:  They leave or they turn on us.

Their bodies may remain in the pew long after their hearts and minds have gone elsewhere.  It sometimes takes a long time for the body to actually follow the heart in leaving.

Or they may turn into wolves.  It is a kind of anti-miracle that these fuzzy gentle creatures can sprout claws and fangs and turn on us.  When the sheep become wolves, it is because of the shepherds.

Later in this chapter Jesus said, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”  v. 15.  Later in the Gospel he said, “Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends…”  15:13,14.  And still later he said to his apostles, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 21:21

“As” means many things.  One of those is that Jesus came as a shepherd who gave his life for his sheep. We also show our love by laying down our lives for the sheep.

Shepherding is a trade and it is a way of life.  We learn our trade by schooling and by experience.  We can not lay it aside after hours.  There are no “after hours” for shepherds.

A profession is hard to enter because the guardians of professions want to maintain the prestige and the market value of those called.  Shepherds are different.  The sheep are not a route for advancement.  They are not numbers leading to a resume.  They are people with names and families.  The more we know them and their places of living and working, the better we can be their pastors.

Many professions have a union or guild.  What would be the point of a shepherds union?  Wouldn’t the sheep die while the owner and the shepherds argued?

Shepherding is a calling.  It is a calling to avoided at all costs, unless you are called by the Good Shepherd.

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Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;

Keep watch over the door of my lips.

Let not my heart be drawn to what is evil

to take part in wicked deeds

with men who are evil doers.

Let me not eat of their delicacies.

Psalm 141:3,4

 

An oracle is within my heart,

concerning the sinfulness of the wicked,

There is no fear of God before their eyes,

For in his own eyes he flatters himself

Too much to detect of hate his sin.

Psalm 36:1,2

David E. Carlson c 2000

Links in John 11 and 12

rope

John links his stories together in interesting ways.

 John 10

 “The thief comes in to steal, kill and destroy. 10:10

  • Compare with v. 31, 39; 11:8-9

“The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.”  10:11(also 15, 17)

  • Compare with 11:50; 12:7-8; 12:23ff
  • “The sheep listen to his voice.” 10:3, 4, 8, 16.
  • Compare with 10:25-31; 11:43-44

 John 11

This Mary…was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair…”   11:2

  • Compare with 12:1-8

The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face…” 11:44

  • Compare with 19:38-20:9

“You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”  11:50

  • Compare with John 3:16

Note: This is the John style.  The Letter of I John has a circular structure where several themes are stated, repeated and developed over the book, like a rope woven of strands.

Great Verses in Funny Places

lone-flowerSometimes memorable verses are found in the oddest places.

A great affirmation of God’s faithful committed love is found in the book of Lamentations and in a chapter that is a very grim description of the fallen state of Jerusalem after it fell captive to the Babylonian Empire.  Lamentations 3:23 is the source for the great hymn, “Great is Thy Faithfulness.”

16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
17 my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
18 so I say, “My endurance has perished;
so has my hope from the Lord.”

19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings,
the wormwood and the gall!
20 My soul continually remembers it
and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
and therefore I have hope:

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“therefore I will hope in him.”

A great verse on the work of Christ in the Gospel is found in a message on financial giving.  Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is urging the church there to give toward those in need in Jerusalem, the mother church.  There he speaks of Christ becoming poor for us.  2 Corinthians 8:9

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 that though he was rich,

yet for your sake he became poor, 

so that you through his poverty might become rich.

What is a nice verse like you doing in a neighborhood like that?

John 10 a Worksheet

shepherdA worksheet for John 10 – the topic is Shepherds (i.e. spiritual leaders) and Sheep (i.e. people).

Consider how the idea of legitimacy fits the teaching of Jesus from about Chapter 6 to 10, where Jesus and his audience are involved in a series of discussions and controversies: some believe in him and others seek his destruction.

Consider the idea of sheep knowing the voice of the shepherd – and the man healed in John 9 and Lazarus who hears the command of Christ from the grave.  (John 11)

Worksheet – John 10 Worksheet

An 8 Point Sermon – John 9

isaiah-3.jpgSo much for three points and two jokes.  I could find no other way to preach John 9 than to retell the story.  Squeezing a passage into a sermonic form seems to be more about the preacher than the text.  So I have sometimes followed the read and observe method.  I am not sure if this would get me out of homiletics class.

Faith&Unbelief

Nature in John’s Gospel

earthWe think of John as being a very spiritual book – there is a lot of discussion of the ministry of the Holy Spirit (baptism, upper room discourse in chapters 13-17). And yet we also see that John is connected to the physical world.

So Let’s not become Neoplatonists who seek escape from the world.  Jesus in John’s Gospel was not about escape, but rather restoration.

Consider:

  • The Word as Creator: 1:3
  • The Word became flesh 1:14
  • Submitted to baptism in water 1:33-24
  • “I saw you under the fig tree.”  1:50
  • Water changed to wine at a wedding 2:1-11
  • Personally clears temple with a whip 2:15
  • Uses natural birth, wind, Israel’s history to talk to Nicodemus 3:1-20
  • Is tired and thirsty and really does ask for water 4:6
  • Feeds 5,000 with actual bread and fish 6:1-15
  • Really walks on actual water 6:16-21

To be sure John presents Jesus as the Son of God, but not so that he is detached and dismissive of the world he had co-created with the Father.